Historically, the AERC has had a firm "no drugs" policy. Over the years, as testing has gotten more sophisticated, it has become necessary to go from a strict policy of horses must come up with no levels of drugs on blood and urine tests to "allowable" levels. This is wise policy. In the past twenty years or so, testing has gotten pretty good. At this stage in the game, it's possible to detect a sedative in a horse's blood that was administered as much as a month before. Clearly, a month after the horse was sedated for a float, the sedation isn't doing much to the horse's physiology, and it would be ridiculous to disqualify a horse under those circumstances.
AERC's drug policy, as stated in the most current version of the rules, is as follows:
13. Prohibited Substances and Treatments: General Provisions:
13.1 The purpose of this rule against the use of Prohibited Substances or Prohibited Treatments in equines during endurance rides is both to protect the equines from harm and to ensure fair competition. Endurance equines should compete under their natural abilities without the influence of any drug, medication or veterinary treatment.
13.1.1 Prohibited Substances or Prohibited Treatments as defined in this rule shall not be administered to or used in an equine competing in an endurance ride. No equine in which a Prohibited Substance or its metabolite is present shall compete in an endurance ride, regardless of when the Prohibited Substance was administered to it.
The most telling phrase here, I think, is this: Endurance equines should compete under their natural abilities without the influence of any drug, medication or veterinary treatment.
If Omeprazole is allowed, it violates this principle.
Many arguments have been made for allowing it.
Legend and Adequan (as well as several other chrondoprotective substances) are permitted.
Pergolide is on the allowed substances list.
It's cruel not to permit it.
And, the favorite argument of 12 year olds everywhere, all the other equine sports are allowing it.
Honestly the first two arguments hold up the best. It seems we've already moved away from the "no drugs" ethic of old. That being the case, I would be in favor of walking these back.
The idea it is cruel not to permit the use of omeprazole is a bit odd. I submit it is cruel to require an animal to perform in a sport if it can't do so without pharmaceutical support.
And of course, everyone else is doing it. Yes, FEI allows it. Yes, most other sports don't blink at the idea of drugging a horse in order to perform. These sports also allow anti-inflammatories and other pain relievers in competition. If the argument works for Omeprazole, it works for the others, too.
The primary rationale the veterinary committee's article provides is to protect the multi-day horse. The principle is, multi-day horses are away from home for an extended period, their lives and feeding schedules disrupted, and thus more prone to ulceration. This may well be true, however, the rule change would not apply exclusively to multi-day horses.
As the rule currently stands, a horse may be administered Omeprazole up to 24 hours before the start of a ride, then can be dosed again as soon as it finishes the ride and is vetted out. This means, for a single day ride, the horse may go without a dose of Omeprazole for 12-24 hours, depending on length of the ride and ride time.
It is well established Omeprazole has a residual effect protecting the horse's stomach for quite some time after it is withdrawn. Thus, especially for the one day ride, if a horse really can't do without the Omeprazole for the time of the ride, it isn't suited for endurance.
It is my hope AERC will reject this change, and leave the current rule stand.